Friday 30 January 2009

The Mountains of Mourning and Cetaganda, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Two more in the Miles Vorkosigan saga, which I am gradually working my way through.

Cetaganda follows on from The Vor Game in Miles' personal timeline. This time he is sent to the former enemy planet of Cetaganda to represent Barrayar at the funeral of a member of the ruling dynasty. Being Miles, he is immediately involved in a complex plot concerning a struggle for supremacy within Cetaganda's ruling clique, focused on their programme of selective breeding for the elite. Also being Miles, he resolves it all at the end.

The author's writing style, which I have praised before, is such that her books are very difficult to put down: I read Cetaganda in two sittings. I am now trying to analyse her technique to understand how she does it, in the hope that I might learn something which would benefit my own scratchings. I liked the fact that Cetaganda has rather more science-fictional ideas in it than the earlier ones I've reviewed, although I was slightly dissatisfied with the ending; it was just too pat, with Miles dominating the situation. It may seem silly to ask for more realism in a space opera which is by definition completely unrealistic, but I would have preferred it had he not had matters entirely his own way.

I was a bit annoyed about the other story. I was misled into buying a book called Young Miles, which turned out to consist of three separate stories. Two of them are The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game, which I already have (I reviewed them previously on this blog – see the review list on the left). This left the novella The Mountings of Mourning as the only new material. Having said that, it's a good story concerning Miles' attempt to put a stop to the habit in back-country Barrayar of killing any new-born child which is not physically perfect (an issue of decidedly personal interest to him, given his disabilities).

Bujold's work seems particularly prone to being repackaged and sold under different titles, so beware. There are at least two other titles which contain existing books: Miles, Mystery and Mayhem consists of Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos and a short story, Labyrinth. Miles Errant consists of Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance, while Miles in Love includes Komarr, A Civil Campaign and the short story Winterfair Gifts. In between the last two compilations (in terms of Miles' chronology) comes Memory, which appears to be only available as a stand-alone novel, and at the end comes Diplomatic Immunity. At least, that's how I understand it! The compilations are good value in that they cost less than buying the books individually and you often get an extra novella or short story thrown in, but you do need to be wary of what you're buying.

Another writer to suffer from this problem is the excellent James H Schmitz, most famous for The Witches of Karres but who wrote lots of short stories (and even his full-length novels are short by modern standards). Many of his stories have been wrapped up in various anthologies in all manner of different combinations, so great care is called for when buying. I almost placed an order for a recently published stand-alone novel of his until I realised that I already had it in an anthology. Fortunately, some kind person has put together a comprehensive list of his published books together with the stories included in them; you can find it on Wikipedia under the author's name.
I was a tad rude about Demons last week, so in all fairness I should say that Episode 4, in which Mina's vampiric past comes back to haunt her, was a great improvement. Actually enjoyable for the right reasons…but possibly I was only impressed because my expectations were so low!

1 comment:

Bill Garthright said...

I'm sorry to hear about Young Miles, Tony. I hate when publishers do that! I guess this is just another reason I'd recommend reading the Vorkosigan series by publication date, not internal chronology.

Furthermore, "The Mountains of Mourning" was originally published in Borders of Infinity (1989), which I'd highly recommend (if you didn't already own 1/3 of it). It's a book I often recommend to newcomers as a good introduction to the series - a potentially better sample than the first book, which doesn't include Miles at all. Besides "The Mountains of Mourning" and the title novella, where Miles engineers the largest prison break in history, it also includes "Labrynth," which is one of my favorites (Miles rescues Taura, the "sex-starved teenage werewolf," from Jackson's Whole).

But I really enjoy the humor in Bujold's books (that was evident in Cetaganda). And the insights into people (as in "The Mountains of Mourning"). Well, I guess I like everything about them. But I know people who don't like them much at all. Different tastes.